Thursday, May 07, 2009

Back to Reconstitution

I can relate to Steve Barr more than the usual TFA/MBA drones, but the bottom line after reading the New Yorker piece on him and Green Dot (and Duncan's enthusiasm for them) is that you're still ultimately talking about reconstitution, with which we've got a lot of experience (e.g. Reconstitution Trend Cools (1998)) and meh results. We've reconstituted two high schools in Providence over the past 10 years, including one I helped reconstitute, and now our Broad-trained superintendent under more assertive mayoral control is... undoing everything done in those schools as fast as he can. Back in the day, articles were written with the exact tone of the New Yorker piece on Locke (it's clean now!), test scores went up, but not enough, the next administration is not interested in the last person's project, etc.

Perhaps it will be different if you make the schools charters instead of district schools, to protect them from subsequent meddling by the next (and next and next) reformer with a charge to shake up the system. Perhaps not. Probably not. Who knows? What does the evidence say? We didn't start this process yesterday. Here's one thing I do know, this isn't going to be Duncan's grand slam (or three pointer at the buzzer or whatever). At best a bloop single.

I also came across this pithy passage from the late Fred Hess:

Our design was removing the sanctioning capacity of the central office in order to encourage innovation by teachers and principals. The encouraging thing was that after the reforms were enacted, as many as a third of the schools in the city took up that challenge and really did make significant improvement.

After a couple of years it became clear that, well yes, a third were doing it, but only a third were doing it. That's when we began to realize the other two problems we had.

There was another group of schools where the teachers were certainly willing to improve but didn't know how to improve, so that led us to the question of teacher capacity. Then we saw that beyond that second group of schools was a third where the adults simply didn't have the will to change.

Now we've got a hard core of the poorest performing schools and a set of schools that are offsetting each other -- schools that make dramatic improvement over time and then begin to lose the improvement. I looked at a set of schools the other day that had made significant improvement in a five-year period and then over the next five years had deteriorated.

It remains to be seen whether new high-flying schools will be able to sustain their performance over five, ten, fifteen, twenty years. That's the timescale of education. It takes 13 years to get a kid through K-12.

No comments: